I recently became involved in a discussion on Facebook on the quality of the music of Anton Bruckner. Of course everyone was saying, “Mahler’s better. He embraces everything. Mahler has emotion, Bruckner doesn’t.” First off, are these people retarded? You don’t have to embrace everything in order to be a great composer. Find some tavern music in Bach’s Mass, then tell me if you need to embrace everything in order to be great. The main argument against Bruckner was the length of his music, the repetitiveness, and the fact that all the symphonies are the same. All in all, everyone thought it was “boring.” I can almost guarantee that most of these people came to the music with that preconception. You can’t fairly judge music that way. Ironically, the same things that some people hate in Bruckner are the things others find most compelling about him.
I want to address something right now: Bruckner is not Mahler. They have far many more differences than similarities. While they did both follow patterns set by Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner, that is really where the musical similarities end. Stop mentioning the two in the same breath. There is no way to confuse their music; Mahler has a distinct personality, as does Bruckner.
Now, is Bruckner boring? No. I don’t feel that his music is as repetitive as some make it out to be. Yes, the music makes extensive use of repetition, it is nowhere as repetitive as minimalism (some have gone as far to say that Bruckner was the father of minimalism), or modern pop music. I’m sure the people who hate Bruckner are the same ones who are killing “classical” music by demanding that it remain an astute austere music. One has to approach music with an open mind, always. Some people, in a way fairly, accuse Bruckner of being too slow. Most of his tempos are rather moderate, and the forward progress the music makes often is slow and deliberate, but in no way is it like “stained glass.” It does have a destination, and it does move at a pace that Bruckner controls very carefully. I feel that his music is best when played slower, obviously to a point. It needs to have direction, but it can’t be hurrying. Bruckner stands for repose (as opposed to Mahler’s unrest). This is one thing that some people hate in Bruckner, but others love.
In the aformentioned Facebook conversation, some were saying that Bruckner didn’t have any good texture, or emotion. Obviously they were listening to the music with the sound turned off. Bruckner has a set of textures very much his own, and are very recognizable; generally it is called organ-like, and of course Bruckner was a great organist. As far as lacking emotion, I mean really? If they were expecting the drama and emotion of Tchaikovsky, they came to the wrong place. Not to say in any way that Bruckner lacks emotion, but he is far more restrained than many composers of the same period. Every bar is full of some emotion, not his emotion, but emotion in general. Does everything need to be grossly overstated in order to have emotion? No.
But really though I am glad that we are having these kind of conversations, because 50 or so years ago the average music person would have had no idea as to who Mahler or Bruckner were. They have come a long way, but Bruckner has a ways to go before entering the pantheon of great composers in the public eye.